Women’s Preview: UConn @ UVM (2x) – PACK THE GUT!

It’s finally here. My favorite day of the UVM women’s hockey season. Pack the Gut.

I don’t think even Danielle Rancourt thought Pack the Gut would be this consistently big when she first pitched it in 2013 after doing volunteer work for Meals on Wheels. But here we are, at Pack the Gut V, coming off a year in which we broke our own attendance record.

And it’s a huge chance to grow the program and showcase the quality of UVM women’s hockey. If we match last season’s 2,136, and even 10% of the attendees grow interested in the program and start to follow them and attend games, that’s over 200 new fans of UVM women’s hockey.

And it’s not like these are dead-rubber games; these are easily the two biggest games of the season, especially after falling to Merrimack on Sunday. UVM and UConn are tied for 7th in the standings on 15 points with the Huskies having a game in hand, and Merrimack is lurking just behind with 14 and two games next weekend in Storrs. The Cats do still have a chance at 6th as BU is on 17 points and UVM has a game in hand, but now UVM needs to win their game in hand and outdo BU’s final two conference results as the Terriers hold the tiebreaker. My advice to the team is what Plumer said over the Montreal trip: focus on yourselves. The rest will take care of itself. Just do what you need to do: win.

And UConn comes into this series on a four-game winning streak, including a sweep of Maine and an OT win over Providence. Annie Belanger has had another terrific season in goal with a .930 SV%, while freshman Natalie Snodgrass has been fire with 30 points in her first season in the Nutmeg State.

Three Things to Look Out For

  1. Emotional Energy. Gotta give a shoutout to the athletic department here. Scheduling Pack the Gut, Alumnae Weekend, and Senior Day on the same weekend is pretty rad. Expect the Cats to feed off the home crowd’s energy on Friday and the sheer emotion of Senior Day on Saturday. (Speaking of Senior Day: our annual Tribute to the Seniors will be up after the game on Friday.)
  2. Potential for Free Hockey. UConn has played 30 games so far this year. 12 of them have gone to OT. (UConn is 3-1-8 in OT games.) OT and the already high stakes of these games will really crank up the heat. These will be playoff-intensity games and the margins are slim.
  3. Kill Your Penalties. UVM’s special teams struggled big time against Merrimack, but their PK is going to have to be much better against UConn’s PP which clocks in at over 20%, top-10 amongst D1 teams.

Games are Friday at 7 and Saturday at 4 at Gutterson and on CatamounTV. But you should be at Gutterson Friday and help Pack the Gut and give the team a boost.

BIG BIG BIG games. Let’s grab some W’s.

Big Cats Gotta Eat.

Go Cats.


Women’s Preview: Merrimack @ UVM

Super Bowl? Pfft, who needs it. (I don’t really care for the NFL, so I’ll probably spend the game playing some video games or doing homework after I write the recap for this game.)

HUGE HUGE HUGE win at BU last night. That’s a vital win, and a huge 3 game win streak puts destiny firmly in the Catamounts’ hands. Also, the Cats conclude that 9-game gut-check at 4-4-1. That’s pretty solid, and a bounce here or there and they suddenly have a winning record.

Also, quick congrats to Ève-Audrey Picard on making history: per CatamounTV’s Nich Hall, she is the first UVM women’s player ever to score hat tricks in consecutive games, and only the second with three hat tricks in one season. The previous one was Allie Knowles in 1995-96…before the program was elevated to varsity.

That’s not to say the rest of the season isn’t a gut-check though – it’s crunch time. The Cats have proven that they can skate with the best. Now it’s time to take out the teams below them in the standings and get a solid platform for the Hockey East tournament.

This is what positions 5-9 in HE look like:

Team Points Games Left Opponents
Northeastern 20 3 @MC, UVM, @PC
Boston University 17 2 UNH, @UNH
Vermont 15 4 MC, UConn (2), @NU
UConn 13 5 PC, @UVM (2), MC (2)
Merrimack 12 4 @UVM, NU, @UConn (2)

The Cats currently sit 7th, but have 2 games in hand on 6th place BU; win both, and you’re suddenly ahead by two points. They also have an outside shot at 5th if they continue to grab W’s and get some other results to roll their way.

But first….let’s put some space between us and the no-tourney zone. Which is currently occupied by the Merrimack Warriors, 3 points behind UVM with the same amount of games played. They’re coming off a shock 4-1 crunching of a terrific Providence side at Schneider Arena, and will be coming in on a high.

The Cats swept the Warriors earlier this season at Lawler Rink by scores of 3-0 and 2-1. But with the form and recent surprise results these teams have had (UVM sweeping NU and beating Minnesota and BU; Merrimack beating Maine at Alfond and Providence at Schneider), this game is going to be a battle, especially with what’s on the line. And Mack has come up huge in high-stakes games at Gutterson before – you’ll remember that on the last day of the season, Léa-Kristine Demers stopped 48 to give Merrimack the win that got them into the Hockey East tournament for the very first time.

The confidence is flowing in the Cats right now, you’ve shown you can compete with the biggest and best programs in the nation, and now you control your destiny with the remaining schedule being teams near you in the standings.

Three Things to Look Out For

  1. Rae of Sunshine. Katelyn Rae has more goals than anyone else on Merrimack has points. Her 19 goals is 35% of Merrimack’s scoring tally this year. If the Cats can do to her what they did to Victoria Bach last night and Daryl Watts a few weeks ago, Merrimack really has nothing going offensively.
  2. Not-So-Special Teams. Of the true D1 teams, Merrimack has the worst power play (7.3%) and PK (73.4%), with the PP only ahead of Post and the PK ahead of Post and St. Michael’s in the nation. UVM’s special teams have played solid lately (in the last two games, 3 power play goals and a shorty), so if they keep doing what they’re doing, they can find success Sunday.
  3. Points Get Points. Remember back to the sweep at Lawler? UVM’s best weapon was getting traffic in front and letting it rip from the point. Four of their five goals that weekend came in that fashion, with the fifth being an empty netter. They did this well against Northeastern last weekend, and it’s another case of “keep doing what you’re doing and good things happen.”

Game is Sunday at 1pm at Gutterson and on CatamounTV.

Another big two points on the line.

Go Cats.

Recap: UVM (M) 2, PC 2 (OT)

I mean…I guess I’ll take it.

This game played exactly how I figured it would. PC dominated possession – CHN says shot attempts were 79-45 in favor of the Friars – but the Cats did get some offense going on the counter. They had a couple looks in the first (a Bryce Misley shorthanded breakaway stuck out to me), and got a pair on the counter in the second.

First goal comes in the second. Conor O’Neil springs Derek Lodermeier on a breakaway, first shot is saved, but Lodermeier stays with it and bangs the rebound past Hayden Hawkey. 1-0 UVM, completely against the run of play (I think the shots were something like 21-5 at that point).

Second goal comes against the run of play as well and…well…I have no words. Liam Coughlin scored what will probably go down as the Men’s Hockey Goal of the Year when I do end-of-year awards on here (something I didn’t do last year, but will do this year):


Just…watch. Sorry for the cursor and stuff, I was playing it from a streamable I made with the highlight pack (shoutout CatamounTV). Outmuscles Vincent Desharnais to get to the puck, then embarrasses Jacob Bryson before beating Hayden Hawkey down low.

But Providence, as good teams do, dug deep and came back in the third. They pull their first one back on a delayed penalty, with Brian Pinho shuffling his rebound across to Kasper Björkqvist, who beat Stefanos Lekkas (who was PHENOMENAL tonight, I must add).

Second goal comes on a power play, and another rebound. Lekkas made the initial stop on Brandon Duhaime, and Jake Massie does a good job tying him up and preventing him from getting to the rebound. Unfortunately, Scott Conway does get the rebound, and buries it. Tie game.

Some thoughts:

-As I said…Stef Lekkas was unreal tonight. 44 saves, a lot of tough ones. Maybe deserves a breather tomorrow night just for how much he had to work tonight.

-SMH @ the student section. Half of them bailed after the second period. Not to mention it was largely empty to begin with, although that’ll happen with a losing season.

-Not a lot of odd-man rushes or chances in transition for PC, at least that I can remember off the top of my head. They ran the possession game, the Cats ran the counter.

-Speaking of the counter, would like to see Dzhioshvili in tomorrow. His speed and tenacity on the forecheck could be a huge asset in this kind of game.

-One of the best periods the Cats have played all year, the second, followed by one of the worst, the third.

-Interesting note: PC got a LOT of shot generation from their blueline. Ben Mirageas and Jacob Bryson combined out-shot-attempted the entire UVM blueline. Not a knock on the blueline, just an observation.

-UMass lost, UNH tied, so UVM jumps the Minutemen and remains tied with UNH for the 8th spot – home ice in the Octofinals. UVM securing home ice is going to be tricky given their remaining schedule (two at Lake Whitt against UNH, two at Agganis against a resurgent BU, and two at home to a very good Northeastern side), but if they can get some surprise results, it’s still on the table. I think that’d be a good building block for next season seeing as UVM had dug itself such a deep hole.

Rematch tomorrow.

Women’s Preview: UVM @ BU

What a weekend for the women last weekend! That Saturday game is safely in my top-5 games I’ve ever seen at the Gutt – constant excitement capped off by a last-minute, game-winning, hat-trick-completing goal for the home side. The Cats have momentum and confidence, and much of the rest of their schedule is against teams around them in the standings.

That includes this one, the final game of that 9-game gut check I’ve been talking about lately, in which the Cats have gone 3-4-1 and can end this at .500 if they grab a W at Walter Brown Arena. When BU came to Gutterson, the Cats had just upset Clarkson…and then BU came and cleaned out UVM by a combined score of 10-2. Victoria Bach composed an incredible symphony of a weekend with 5 goals. That said, both of these teams are coming in hot after sweeps, as BU clotheslined Merrimack last weekend. This is also a HUGE game in the Hockey East standings – BU sits four points ahead of the Catamounts in the Hockey East standings, with UVM holding two games in hand. If the Catamounts win, they’ll be in a good position to move up in the standings to the 6th seed.

Three Things to Look Out For

  1. Compose Your Defense. Okay, I’ll stop with the music puns… Two weeks ago, UVM basically kept the nation’s leading scorer, Daryl Watts, fairly silent at BC (with her only posting an assist). Now they face the #3 scorer in the nation in Bach, who balled out against the Cats in November and is coming off a seven-point weekend against Merrimack. If they can slow her and sidekick Rebecca Leslie down, BU’s offense becomes a bit more predictable.
  2. Thin Margins. BU has not won a game all season in which they went into an intermission trailing (0-7-2 after both one and two periods), and they’re 0-6 in one-goal games. If the Cats can take the advantage into the locker room, they have a strong chance of taking home at least a point.
  3. Small Rink. All four of UVM’s road wins have come on the 200×85 ice surface (Ridder at Minnesota, Lawler at Merrimack, and Freitas at UConn). The smaller rink plays into one thing this team is really good at – getting traffic in front and utilizing the strong shots from the point from players like Sammy Kolowrat, Taylor Willard, and Daria O’Neill. Walter Brown Arena, unlike the BU men’s rink at Agganis, is also a 200×85. Adjusting to various ice sizes is one of the more fascinating things I see in college hockey, so it’ll be interesting to see if UVM can grab another W on the NHL-sized rink.

Game is Friday at 7pm, BU has live streaming on their site for free.

MASSIVE two points on the line.

Go Cats.

Merrimack preview will be up Saturday if I have time (OL group interview and men’s hockey will take up most of my day).

Men’s Preview: #8 Providence @ UVM (2x)

A win streak! UVM has gone from dead last in HE by a mile to a tie for 8th place – aka, home ice in the Octofinals. (They trail UMass on a tiebreaker.) A strong finish can provide a good foundation for next season. Problem is, three of our last four series come against top-4 HE sides. It’ll be tough, but who knows? They surprised the crap outta me by sweeping Mack at Lawler, so maybe they’ll surprise me further. I didn’t catch either game (I don’t have a TV so I couldn’t watch the NESN game), but it seems like the confidence is going again.

Which is good, because they’ll need that confidence this weekend. Hockey East has largely sucked this year, but the Providence Friars have been their usual solid self under a top-5 coach in Nate Leaman. Sitting at 17-8-3 and 9th in the Pairwise, Providence prides itself on its defense, which ranks 8th in the nation in goals against average, and its ability to control games – they are fourth in the nation in Corsi For % (a stat I use a lot – it’s just shot attempts for / shot attempts against). The attack, led by Erik Foley’s 30 points, is also pretty solid, with 10 players in double-figure points and the 15th most goals-for-per game. The Cats need to keep up their play from last weekend, perhaps even improve it, because scoring chances will be hard to come by.

Three Things to Look Out For

  1. Gotta Go Fast. In my opinion, the biggest strength of this UVM side is its speed. With Providence likely controlling the games, UVM will need to rely on the counter-attack for its scoring opportunities, which means that that speed is going to be critical.
  2. Go Away Buccigross. Hayden Hawkey can be a solid goaltender, but he might be the most inconsistent goalie in the conference. He has a .913 SV% right now, but which Hawkey shows up against UVM – the one that shut out BU and Maine and stopped 40 against Merrimack, or the one that gave up 4 goals on 16 shots to a bad RIT team?
  3. Standings Scuffle. If Providence sweeps, they could go top of HE if results elsewhere go their way. That has to have Leaman’s crew fired up. As for UVM, they need to get points to potentially sneak in the back door and snag a home-ice Octofinals series. If they even get a split this weekend, next weekend’s series in Durham against UNH will be huge.

Games are Friday and Saturday at 7 on CatamounTV.

It’s crunch time. Big Cats gotta eat.

Go Cats.

Recap: UVM (W) 5, Northeastern 2

Yeah, I know, it’s been a while since I did a recap. I only really do those for games I’m at, and I’ve not had a working computer lately…

This was a complete 60-minute performance. The defense was solid; Sydney Scobee didn’t have to face very many high-danger chances. The offense took its chances, and Scobee made the necessary saves. So let’s go through this, goal-by-goal.

First goal kinda comes off a lucky bounce, now that I see it on replay. In real time I thought Mackenzie MacNeil had a sick spinning feed, but it turns out it hit the skate of a Husky defender, and of course it was none other than Ève-Audrey Picard who spun and scored on one knee to put UVM up 1-0.

Northeastern ties it up on a bit of a knuckleball from the point. Lauren Kelly took the shot, I thought it was tipped in real time, but it looks like it goes in clean on the replay. They utilized heavy traffic in front of Scobee – and traffic in front or deflections in front are going to be a recurring theme here.

Second UVM goal comes on the power play through a deflection. Taylor Willard with a point shot, looks from the replay like it took a dip in front that Kourtney Menches was able to tip past Brittany Bugalski, giving UVM a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Picard got her second not too long after that. Katherine Pate takes a shot from the point that’s headed wide, but Picard jumps on it and tips it past Bugalski for an insurance goal.

The game broke open not too long after that with another UVM power play goal. Sammy Kolowrat fires one, again utilizing traffic in front. That beats Bugalski, and her night is done, in comes Aerin Frankel.

Northeastern did pull one back in the third on the PP. Taytum Clairmont skates into the high slot, uses some traffic in front as a screen, and rips one past Scobee.

And then the final UVM goal was an empty netter by Mackenzie MacNeil.

Some thoughts:

  • I hope Katherine Pate is okay, you could hear her coughing as she came off the ice with what appeared to be a neck/throat injury. I thought she played well tonight.
  • One thing I’ve noticed throughout the year – really starting with the Merrimack series – is that this team can really utilize those shots from the point if they get traffic in front. Kolowrat, Willard, O’Neill, Drobot, and Flaherty (who did not play tonight) can all really rip it from the point.
  • Speaking of Drobot, she has been playing some of her best hockey of her career since the break, IMO. She looks a lot more confident with the puck.
  • On the topic of confidence…you can feel it flowing right now. Players trying dangles and moves that they wouldn’t have before the break. Kristina Shanahan had a few nice moves out there.
  • Ève-Audrey Picard was literally everywhere, with her 3 points in addition to some BIG defensive plays (including a poke to get the puck out of the zone with the score 4-2 and NU having pulled the goalie).
  • UVM leapfrogs Merrimack into 7th in Hockey East with the W tonight. They’re 4 back of sixth-place BU with two games in hand and a matchup at Walter Brown next Friday.
  • Cats are now 2-4-1 on that 9-game “gut check.” Going .500 is a realistic possibility, and against that level of strength of schedule, that would be a solid result for a young, developing team.

Rematch tomorrow at 4pm. Should be interesting.


Women’s Preview: Northeastern @ UVM (2x)

Morale is one thing we don’t think about when we talk about sports teams. Confidence plays a huge role in a team’s ability to function; a team low on confidence will have trouble executing in key moments, while a team high on confidence will be able to bang home those opportunities.

So UVM is 1-4-1 on this 9-game gut check stretch after being swept by BC. But I do feel this is a case of “better than the record shows.” I know there’s no such thing as moral victories, and close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades, but this team just looks flat-out better than it did over the break. Their confidence is definitely back, and their defense has been solid in limiting opponents’ scoring chances and forcing shots to the perimeter. USCHO’s Nicole Haase just published a story on their trip, which is worth checking out.

Next up is Northeastern. Like UVM, this team has defeated a pair of top-5 opponents, having beaten BC and Wisconsin. Predicted as the #2 seed in the conference in the preseason poll (and two coaches, one of whom was definitely BC’s Katie King-Crowley, had them in first), they instead sit 4th. One story this season has been the “struggles” of Denisa Křížová, who has been one of the best players in WHEA the last two years. Don’t get me wrong, 21 points in 26 games is a solid season for most players, but for a player with 104 points in the past two seasons, it’s solidly a disappointment, and no one has filled in as that go-to player. Goalie Brittany Bugalski has also regressed, dropping to an .898 SV%, and lost her starting job to freshman Aerin Frankel, who has been solid. All of Northeastern’s losses were quality teams too – Clarkson, Colgate, Providence, BC, and a surprising Maine team.

The Cats need to put some HE points on the board, and these next 3 games present opportunities to get not only points, but quality points. And they need them, with UConn just two points back for the final tournament slot. Granted, UVM is also just 4 points back of BU in sixth with 2 games in hand and they play UConn, 7th-place Merrimack, and BU once each down the stretch, so it’s still anyone’s game.

Three Things to Look Out For:

  1. Home Ice Edge. The Huskies have been a sub-.500 team in true road games. The Cats have struggled at home with a 2-7-2 record, but again, they’ve been a lot better since the break.
  2. Heading to the Room. When leading after 1, Northeastern is 10-0-0, and leading after 2 they are 6-1-2.  But when trailing after 1, they’re 1-7-1, and after two, 2-8-0. If the first period ends in a certain score, odds are the game will end in a similar way.
  3. Kříž! Okay, that mostly works when said (it’s roughly pronounced “SHEESH”)…but as I said earlier, Denisa Křížová has struggled a bit more than we’re used to. But great players may fall down, but will always get back up. It’s only a matter of time before she regains form and confidence.

Games are Friday at 7 and Saturday at 4 at the Gutt and on CatamounTV.

Let’s get some points on the board.

Go Cats.

Men’s Preview: UVM @ Merrimack (2x)

A win! I know I’ve been really harsh on the men’s team lately, but beating Lowell for the first time since the 2014 HE tournament is something to build on (although I still have some concerns, namely the nearly-blown 4-0 lead). This season is lost, but if we can build end-of-season momentum I’ll feel a bit better about next season.

Next up is the team just down 495 from the River Hawks, the Merrimack Warriors. Though the Warriors are struggling at 7-13-4, Lawler is a tough place to play at (just ask Denver). The smaller ice and the way Mark Dennehy has built his team leads to slow, low-event hockey and a defensive shell that is tough to crack. Their goaltending has been a bit shaky (Craig Pantano has been okay, with a .914 in 17 games, but Drew Vogler has been awful with a .874 in 8 games) and they’ve been awful on the road. But at home they’re a .500 team and never an easy out, with Denver being the highest-profile team to fall victim to the Lawler trap. It’s a veteran group with all three of Merrimack’s leading scorers being seniors; their highest-scoring freshman has 4 points.

Three Things to Look Out For

  1. Intermission Leads. The way Merrimack plays makes playing from behind very difficult, and their records show it – they’re 0-9 when trailing after the first and 1-7-4 trailing after 2. If you can hold a lead going into the locker room, odds are you’re in good shape.
  2. Get the Power. It’s no secret UVM’s PP has been struggling of late. Well, here’s the second-worst PK in the nation, with a 74.5% kill rate. The Cats should seize this opportunity to improve a PP that gave up 5 shorties in the span of 3 games earlier.
  3. Gotta Go Fast. Given how Mack likes to play disciplined, defensive hockey, the Cats should try to utilize the speed they have on their roster and use that to slice and dice the Warriors’ defense.

Games are Friday and Saturday at 7. Saturday game is on NESN. Both games are on a site with a paywall – grrr!

Quick shoutout, if you’re going to the games, use order code COMMUNITY18. Saves $10!

Go Cats.

Women’s Preview: UVM @ #2 BC (2x)

The winless funk is over! What a win last weekend at Minnesota. Women’s hockey twitter was absolutely stunned that UVM went up 4-0. Congrats once again to Coach Plumer on becoming the winningest coach in program history…here’s hoping it doesn’t take as long to hit the second 71 wins 😉 The second game wasn’t as pretty, but I think the scoreline was a bit harsh as UVM was in it until the third (one might chalk that up to the D just getting tired after all the travel).

So it’s back to the conference grind. The Cats are 1-2-1 so far in the 9-game ‘gut check’ against the Boston schools plus Minnesota and Providence. But BC provides a huge test. The Eagles seem to be on a collision course with Wisconsin for the national title, and they are the only team in the conference Plumer hasn’t beaten. And Conte Forum has been a house of horrors for this team; UVM has been outscored 23-6 since 2014/15 in Chestnut Hill, including a 7-1 loss last year. Can the Cats buck that trend and win their third game against a top 5 foe this season?

Three Things to Look Out For

  1. Watts with Daryl? Daryl Watts is legitimately be the best player in the nation. SHE’S A FRESHMAN. 65 points in 25 games is just incomprehensible. BC has the best offense of any team in a conference, and for good reason. UVM’s defending is going to have to be even better than it was through five periods last weekend.
  2. Stay Out of the Box. UVM takes the tenth-most penalties in the nation, although they did a good job of remaining disciplined against Minnesota. They’ll have to be even better against BC, the nation’s top power play.
  3. Take Advantage of the PP. If there’s one area where BC is somewhat vulnerable, it’s their mediocre PK. UVM’s PP has struggled this year, but they’ll have to step up this weekend to help the Cats get some points.

Games are Friday at 7 and Saturday at 2…WITH STREAMING! BC dumped their paywall this year in favor of broadcasting games on ESPN3. So go there if you want to watch.

Let’s get ourselves another top 5 foe down this season.

Go Cats.

Women’s Preview: UVM @ #6 Minnesota (2x)

Here we go.

When you think of women’s college hockey, what programs come to mind? I’d think that the Minnesota Golden Gophers are amongst the first 3 teams you thought of. They have been the gold standard in women’s hockey for some time, with 6 national titles, including four in five years from 2012 to 2016, as well as a perfect season in 2012-13. Only once this decade have they missed the NCAA tournament. This series, the final out-of-conference series of the season, is a measuring stick to see where the UVM program is at.

Good news for the Cats: Even though the Gophers are 16-5-2 and a top team in the nation, they’ve struggled a bit at Ridder Arena, with a “meh” 6-5-2 record. Admittedly, 3 of those losses were to ranked Wisconsin and Ohio State, but the other two came at the hands of Merrimack, a team UVM’s already beaten, and a .500 Bemidji State.

The goaltending save percentage numbers for the Gopher goalies are both somewhat low (Sidney Peters has a .916, and backup Alex Gulstene has a .904), but there’s a reason for that – they don’t face a lot of shots. On average, Minnesota gives up 23.1 shots per game. They’re solid enough goalies in their own right, but I’m not sure one would call them elite.

In terms of skaters, this is not a team that relies on one great player. They do score goals – 7th most in the nation outside of that weird independent scheduling alliance, despite none of their top 6 scorers last season playing this year – but they rely on their ability to roll four lines. Twelve players have at least double digit points, led by Grace Zumwinkle’s 26. Last season they did have Sarah Potomak and Kelly Pannek, but both are missing the season due to centralization. They get a lot of shots – an average of 30 a game – and they have a very young, hungry group of players.  UVM has shown that they can compete with these kinds of teams, but on the road after a flight to Minneapolis is going to be a difficult, difficult series.

Games are Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 6pm. Stuck behind a paywall. Blech.

Go Cats.